Recognizing Scientific Excellence and Altruism

November 14, 2018

While recognizing the unsung work of scientists in corporate research and development, the Galien Awards remind the industry of its priorities: patients and future patients within the global community.

On Oct. 25, 2018, in a gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Prix Galien’s USA Committee awarded biopharmaceutical companies for excellence in developing products that are expected to have the most tangible impact on patients’ lives. A committee chaired by Sue Desmond Hellman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which includes Roy Vagelos, chairman of the board of Regeneron and former CEO of Merck, as well as Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Stanford University; Paul Marks, head of cell biology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Nobel Prize laureates Michael Brown, Richard Acel, Joseph Goldstein and Bengt Samuelsson, chose this year’s winners:

  • Celgne-Agios won for ‘Best Pharmaceutical Product’ with IDHIFA, which treats acute myeloid leukemia, which the National Cancer Institute has named one of the ten deadliest forms of cancer in the United States. The therapy acts by disrupting a specific metabolic pathway in cancer cell development, and requires testing for a specific biomarker that indicates genetic mutations in patients who are most likely to respond to treatment.

  • Kite’s Yescarta and Novartis Pharmaceutical’s Kymriah both won for ‘Best Biotechnology Product’.Yescarta is a genetically modified autologous T-cell immunotherapy for treating large B-cell lymphoma; Kymriah is a one-time cell-therapy based treatment for B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia and for adults with relapsed large B-cell lymphoma.

  • Boston Scientific Corp. won ‘Best Medical Technology’ for Watchman, its coronary implant designed to reduce the risk of embolism and stroke in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. The implant offers an alternative to lifelong administration of the blood thinner, warfarin.

The gala took place in the ocean exhibit at the museum, under the huge blue whale model suspended from the ceiling. A red carpet was rolled over the museum’s iconic steps on Central Park West, serving as a visual reminder of the real heart of an industry whose public image has, at times, been hijacked (most infamously, by Martin Skreli). It brought attention to the tireless, but invisible, work of the scientists and engineers who develop new therapies, who deal with setbacks and frustrations far from the eye of the public and the media. Teams at companies that had been nominated for the award were all in attendance and, while team leaders spoke after receiving the award, most teams were present for the awards.

A view of the Galien Foundation gala, which took place in the ocean exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Oct. 25, 2018 [image courtesy of the author].

The Galien Foundation also honors achievements that make medical breakthroughs available to more of the world’s citizens, with its Pro-Bono Humanitarian Award, which was established in 2007 and sponsored by the late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. His widow attended the event.

This year, the Foundation renamed this award the Roy Vagelos Pro Bono Humanum Award for global health equity, to honor Mr. Vagelos, whose efforts have eradicated the parasitic disease river blindness in many countries in Africa and Latin America. Vagelos had pledged to make Merck’s drug Mectizan available “as much and as long as necessary” to eliminate this preventable disease. Over the past 30 years, the company has supplied more than two billion treatments, at no cost, treating 250 million people, and the gesture has become a benchmark for corporate ethics programs everywhere.

The 2018 prize was awarded to Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation for their work in making vaccines and malaria treatments accessible to patients in the developing world. Past winners have included US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Drs. Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health, and Bernard Kouchner cofounder of Doctors without Borders.

 "Bill and Melinda Gates…are guided by a simple principle: all lives have equal value. They not only believe this, but put this into practice around the world," said Dr.  Desmond-Hellmann at the event. "I can confidently say that their generosity, hard work, and strength of purpose are helping make our world a better place."

The Galien Foundation, established in 1970, was designed to reward innovation in improving the human condition through medicine. It was named after the Roman physician Galen, who is considered the father of modern pharmacology, and is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for biopharmaceutical and medical technology research.

The Foundation is stepping up its international presence and agenda. On November 27–28, 2018, it will host its first Forum in Dakar, Senegal.